How’s this for stunt casting? Douglas Urbanski, a brash conservative radio jock, is playing Obama’s top economist, Larry Summers, in the new Facebook movie, The Social Network. Sam Jacobs talks to him about his role. Plus, View Our Complete Coverage of The Social Network
Douglas Urbanski, a sometime conservative radio jock and Hollywood producer, is not exactly a fan of Larry Summers. Asked to describe the director of the National Economic Council, Urbanski says, “He is a destructive economist. The destructive would be spelled with capital letters, bold-faced type, italicized, and underlined.”
It’s due to some great cosmic joke, then, that Urbanski will be playing Summers in his first onscreen portrayal. Director David Fincher cast Urbanski in his new Facebook movie, The Social Network, where he’ll play Summers during his stormy tenure as Harvard’s president.
Urbanski, who’s only had one other role in front of the camera, is normally what you might call a rent-a-conservative. When Rush Limbaugh is busy getting himself married, Urbanski fills in on his radio show. When Fred Thompson is itching to hit the road, Urbanski makes himself available to fill the vacated airwaves. Same for Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham. He’s done hundreds of fill-in spots from his home base in Beverly Hills.
Urbanski can hold forth on the inanity of man-made climate change like a pro. He can preach on the dangerous war on Christmas. He can tell tales about the hypocrites in Hollywood who would hammer President Bush for the oil spill in the Gulf but let President Obama off scot-free.
Obama-bashing is actually what Urbanski does off-the-books. In his day job, he’s a Hollywood deal-maker and manager for the British actor Gary Oldman. The two are not only fellow travelers in Hollywood’s conservative netherworld but have their own film company, the SE8 Group. According to Urbanski, his casting was no act of ideological sabotage on the part of the movie’s makers. David Fincher, Urbanski says, just happened to think that Urbanski carries something of Summers’ mien. In the shorthand of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, at least in one draft version of the script in The Daily Beast’s possession, Summers merits a tidy description. He is, simply, “a large man.”
“As much as I hate to admit, David may have seen some vague physical resemblance,” Urbanski says.
David Fincher just happened to think that Urbanski carries something of Summers’ mien.
Urbanski says that while he didn’t study Summers for the role (“I couldn’t be less interested in Larry Summers”), he did talk to two acquaintances who filled him in on the professor’s mannerisms. The one-second glimpse of Urbanski playing Summers in the movie’s trailer proves Fincher knew what he was doing. For those who are more likely to spend time tuning up their Facebook profile than tuning in to Meet the Press, Summers has one thing that Urbanski is largely lacking: hair.
Summers—the real-life one—has been back in the news lately as White House watchers blame his famously explosive personality for fissures in Obama’s economic policy team. Top adviser Christina Romer quit her job earlier this month with some fingering Summers’ brusque behavior as the cause. In his chronicle of Obama’s first year, Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter includes one memorable scene with Summers and Romer exchanging heated words. Romer finished the fight by shouting, “Don’t bully me!”
The Summers as imagined by Sorkin and Fincher isn’t likely to help undo that bullying reputation. He appears in the movie during his time at Harvard’s helm. We find him in the president’s office, surrounded by photos from his days in the Clinton administration, and with little patience for his visitors: two students, the preppy twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, have come to the president with their complaint that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for a website to create Facebook. A fire is burning in his quarters, and the president, too, is on fire.
After only a minute with the brothers, Summers tires of them, and pleads with an assistant, “Punch me in the face.” Known for his intolerance for opposing ideas—“There are idiots. Look around,” Summers once wrote in an economics paper—Summers finds the twins to be utterly unpersuasive and sends them on their way.
Despite once making a stink over the fact that a Gary Oldman film, The Contender, which came out weeks before the 2000 presidential election, had been re-cut to please the liberal bosses at DreamWorks, Urbanski says that it’s been easy keeping two sets of books in Hollywood.
“People in Hollywood don’t give a damn about what I say on conservative radio,” he says.
Whatever his politics, that’s the sort of brashness that Larry Summers could get behind.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.